Venice: Ex Officina Gryphii sumptibus vero Francisci Camotii e sociorum (Giovanni Griffio for Giovanni Francesco Camocio and Partners), 1552. First Edition. Small 4to. , 191, [1 blank], 31, [1 blank] pp. Collation: *4 A-Z4 AA4 a-d4. COMPLETE. Woodcut device on title-page, 7- and 5- line historiated initials. Contemporary vellum, evidence of two pair of ties (vellum on front cover and inside margin of front blank leaf with evidence of biopredation in two places; if there was a blank at the end it is no longer extant). Lower edge of textblock with appealing contemporary MS inscription of the author's name and title of the work. Overall an excellent copy, completely unsophisticated. Item #2553
First edition of Meletius' "On the Construction of Man," recently rediscovered and pronounced as "a forgotten and neglected masterpiece" by a "pioneer scientist who still deserves his place amongst the greatest, as the true beacon for the description of blood's circulation" (SOURCE: G. Tsoucalas, T. Mariolis-Sapsakos, and M. Sgantzos, "Meletius the Monk (c. 8th to 9th century AD) and the Blood Circulation" in: European Heart Journal, Volume 38, Issue 9, 1 March 2017, Pages 624–626).
Our knowledge of Meletius' discoveries has greatly benefited from the groundbreaking reassessment by Tsoucalas et al. (op.cit.), who acknowledge the fact that the discovery of the blood circulation through the cardiovascular system remains a debated subject. The authors further acknowledge almost universal acceptance that William Harvey discovered the entire path of the blood circulation, and later Marcello Malpighi completed the puzzle discovering the small capillaries. But according to Tsoucalas et al., as early as the 8th or 9th-century Meletius ("the Monk") had already written "the first description of cardiovascular circulation accompanied by the discovery of the microcirculation inside the capillaries."
"Inside his work 'On the Construction of Man,' Meletius described the blood's circulation in detail. He had considered that the body humors from the heart, flow through the aorta (the main vein which starts from the heart) towards the liver. He had recognized the liver as the biochemical factory of the human organism, by stating that there, inside the liver's veins, the humors were transformed into blood, due to its heating procedures (blood genesis). From there, through the liver veins, the blood circulated throughout the whole body to be transformed de novo into body humors and sperm, the nutritional elements for the tissues and organs.
"Bile and spleen were the first organs to be fed by blood. He then tried to interpret the transportation of blood. In his effort to describe the ‘entrance gate’ he wrote, ‘by towing force the blood nourishes the human body’. This is probably the first mention of the capillaries, a scientific view close to the modern one. Surprisingly he had understood the spleen's role by writing ‘spleen after feeding, gathers blood serous, and by towing force both kidneys soak it, feeding themselves by the last remnants of the blood, and finally they eliminate the serous through urination’.
"After describing what seems to be the destruction of the red cell series and partly the role of the kidneys, he quoted the most important piece of his work, ‘the blood with the help of the kinetic force circulates the body through the veins to the smaller veins, and with the help of the smallest ones, named ‘trichoide’ (Greek : capillaries), it moves towards every molecule, strengthening the vital force to maintain life’. The capillaries were now named, and their role was finally fully understood.
"In the next segment of his work he wrote, ‘the thick blood, burned after the organs’ nutrition, uncleaned, is trying to feed itself during breathing. It becomes thinner, cleaner, full of air's substances’, partly clarifying the role of the lungs. According to Meletius, blood was the hottest of the body humors, and the element to be transformed into milk in the breasts of women, or into sperm in men’s testicles. The blood was for him the key factor for the development of the human body. Meletius considered viscosity as a key factor for the normal circulation of blood. Reducing it through hydration, a better circulation could have been achieved. Per his views the level of blood's viscosity determined the cardiac rhythm and nutrition. This fragment was, most probably, the first mention of a myocardial infarct" (sic!)
Tsoucalas et al. relied exclusively on the first Greek edition of Meletius' writings which appeared in 1836. Incredibly, these authors failed to mention the fact that Meletius' works were first published in the present edition of 1552, namely in the Latin translation by Nicolas Petreius (Corcyraeus), contained in this fascinating collection of three Byzantine Greek medical treatises, all of which are published here for the first time according to the title-page ("Omnia haec non prius edita"), for which see below.
Meletius describes not only the circulation of the blood but almost every aspect of the human body, insofar as was then observable. Of particular interest is Meletius' extremely early reference to celebral localization. His chapter on the eye has been the subject of recent scholarship (J. Lascaratos & M. Tsirou, “Ophthalmological ideas of the Byzantine author Meletius” in: Documenta Ophthalmologica, 74, 1990, pp. 31-35; Robert Renehan, "Meletius' Chapter on the Eyes: An Unidentified Source" in: Dumbarton Oaks Papers, no. 38, 1984). Renehan disparages Meletius' writings as being entirely derivative ("neither original nor profound") yet conceeds that "Meletius had access to a treatise on human anatomy and physiology that has not survived."
Meletius "the Monk" (fl. 8th- or 9th-century) resided at the monastery of the Holy Trinity in Tiberiopolis where he practiced cautery and blood-letting. Nothing is known of him, save what he has written about himself in the preface, namely that he is short, snub-nosed, and has blue eyes; he also has a scar on his forehead and suffers from gout. Also in the preface, he states that he has produced a "new" kind of treatise, namely a concise, complete account of the nature of man. As was typical among Byzantine and early Medieval authors, he claimed no originality, rather a new synthesis to cover all aspects of his subject, about which Tsoucalas state: "His masterpiece left us to wonder about his great skills on whether he was a significant link in the history of the discovery of blood circulation, or he was the greatest reviewer on the views from antiquity." Some of the works to which Meletius referenced have now been lost according to Susan Holman, for which see: "On Phoenix and Eunuchs: Sources for Meletius the Monk's Anatomy of Gender" (in: Journal of Early Christian Studies, 2008, vol. XVI, no. 1, pp. 79-101).
The present volume is further distinguished by containing the first appearance in print of the pseudo-Aristotelian "Naturae signorum interpretatio," a translation of the forgery of Antonius Polemo's "Physiognomica," which remains one of the EARLIEST EXTANT TREATISES ON PHYSIOGNOMY. After this appears Hippocratis' work on the structure of the human body, and finally a letter from Diocles of Carystos to King Antigonus of Macedonia on the maintenance of health (in classical times Diocles was placed next to Hippocrates in importance).
Provenance: on title page 16th-century inscription by "Vincenti Aymi" (i.e. Vincent Aymes), possibly the same individual who made a rather illegible inscription on the verso of the final leaf (dated 1569). From the esteemed collection of Walter Pagel (1896-1983) a formidable historian of science, with the MS booklabel of his son Bernard E.J. Pagel, FRS (1930-2007).
Adams M-1221. Wellcome I, 4191. Durling 3057. Hoffmann II, 589. EDIT 16 CNCE 29535. Choulant, Handbook 145 ("Very rare"). Sarton I, 497. For Meletius in the original Greek, see J.A. Cramer, Anecdota graeca e codd. manuscriptis Bibliothecarum Oxoniensium, 1835-7, vol. III, pp. 1-157.